Grandmother Mona Polacca believes that her origins are as important as her name, Polacca, which means ‘the butterfly’ in the Hopi language. In Hopi Iore, the butterfly symbolizes man’s spiritual transformation. On her father’s side, she is a Hopi-Tewa form the Sun and Tabacco Clans. On her mother’s side, Grandmother Mona is Havasupai, the people of the Blue Green Water, form the Grand Canyon area in Arizona…
Mona’s maternal grandfather and great-grandfather were the last chiefs of the Havasupai Nation. She believes their prayers helped make a way for her in this world.
Grandmother Mona lives her life according to her mother’s teaching and takes great care with her speech and actions. “You are not here just for yourself, Grandmother Mona’s mother taught her. Wherever you go, you are a representative of our family Ã‚lour tribe, our people.”
For almost 30 years, Grandmother Mona Polacca has worked in the field of alcoholism and substance abuse. In the 1970s she was given the job to develop substance-abuse programs for tribal youth. She organized inside her culture with youth programs led by elders who shared traditions and life stories. Kids learned traditional songs and games that give them a greater sense of identity, purpose, and direction.
Soon the young people became involved in running the conferences. The youth learn these ways are accessible. Not meant to be just seen under glass in a museum where you can only stand and look, Grandmother Mona says. “Their hands can hold the traditional ways. It’s not just our history, but an essential part of our life today.”
Grandmother Mona has helped several important studies about addictive behavior. One study reveals that the most important way for Native women to overcome substance abuse is the threat of taking away their children. Another study proves that Native youth respond positively to programs with cultural components like sweat lodges, singing, and drumming. Even those living far from their reservations can maintain sobriety through a close connection with the ceremonies.
Today Grandmother Mona lives in Arizona and has a son, two daughters, and seven grandchildren. She is now working on her Ph.D. at the Interdisciplinary Justice Studies Department of Arizona State University. When Grandmother Mona first addressed the Grandmothers Council, she embraced them as beautiful relatives of the world. She then explained that the Hopi way of greeting those from other nations is to reach out an open hand to show one has come in peace.